Driftglass, Samuel R. Delany (Part 2)
To wrap up my review of this collection, begun here.
“Driftglass” Cal Svenson is a former depth gauger for International Aquatic Corp, adapted with gills and webbed digits to work underwater. His career ended years ago in a major accident in the Slash, an underwater trench. He’s living as something of a beachcomber in a tropical fishing village near the Slash, when he runs into a younger Aquatic who tells him about new plans to explore the Slash.
The story explores themes of generational torch-passing and of living in the world as it is and not how it might ideally be. Its as poetically and dramatically told as any other in the collection.
“We, in some strange power’s employ, move on a rigorous line” Gila Monster is a mobile cable-laying machine responsible for keeping the world connected by power and communications cable. Blacky Jones has just been promoted from “line demon” to “section devil” in the Power service, as Gila Monster receives a special assignment to convert a previously unconnected community to the global network. Which is trouble because that community is an aerie of “pteracycle” riders, which is basically an airborne motorcycle gang, and they don’t want to be connected to the global power network.
This is basically “The roads must roll” rewritten for the New Wave. There’s not too much to the plot, and the pteracycle concept is just too clunky to hold the story together. But its good to see the golden age get turned on its head by a New Wave that can make the connection between Global Power and global power.
“Cage of brass” Jason Cage is a genius architect who’s locked up in an “inescapable” prison for murder. He happens to be put in one of only three cells where, due to a quirk of the prison’s design, the prisoners can talk to each other through disused plumbing.
The main story is Cage’s telling the two other prisoners he’s in communication with about his life before prison, and his crime. The secondary story is the other prisoners’ effort to get slightly mad Cage to use his architectural knowledge to help them escape. The story of Cage’s life as an architecture student in Venice is atmospheric, and well told. The fellow prisoners are likewise naturally depicted. The quirk that allows the prisoners to esape, though, feels contrived.
“High Weir” An exploratory expedition to Mars encounters some interesting artifacts, meanwhile nearly driving each other crazy. The theme of the story is connected to holograms and hologrammatic information storage. Unfortunately there’s not much to it beyond that, and the 40 years since the story was written have reduced the hologram from a gee-whiz new technology to an everyday item.
“Time considered as a helix of semiprecious stones” “HCE” is a thief who specializes in using disguises to stay anonymous and inconspicuous. He goes by a variety of aliases, always with the same initials. Nonetheless, he mixes with a very conspicuous crowd, including a top crime boss and a variety of “Singers”, celebrities who capture events and the mood of the public in song.
This story seems to get as much attention as any of Delany’s short works. But I must have missed something because it never hooked me. The 60’s era nightclub culture came across more like something out of Gordon Dickson, and the kind of lyricism or poetry found in the rest of these stories was much reduced in this one.
“Night and the loves of Joe Dicostanzo” Joey and Max are trapped in a surreal castle, only abstractly described, where they have some control over reality, able to create and destroy things and even other people.
Probably Joey and Max represent warring ideas within Joe’s mind, or the id and the ego, or something. But Freudian psychology just doesn’t fascinate me the way it fascinated so many SF authors in the ’60’s and ’70’s. I just couldn’t put the story together in my head well enough to “get” it.
To my mind, the strength of this collection is really in the first half, Delany’s earliest stories. Just for those stories, though, the collection is well worth seeking out. Very few authors have written SF as poetically as Delany, and very few write short stories that pull together so many themes and interweave them so tightly.